Assessing Solution Requirements

In this blog I talk about requirements, and the process of choosing anything as an architect. It could be a hardware solution, like a suitable laptop, or a software decision like choosing between Teams and Slack. 

A really important thing to note here, its that its much more important to think about the methodology behind what I present here than the tools I use.

Choosing The Right Solution

As a rule of thumb, it’s always a good idea to assess 2-3 different technologies before choosing one. Its good to know if your primary option fails for whatever reason, there’s a secondary solution. We want to avoid vendor lock-in ; if there is only a single vendor we should risk assess them – which is a whole other subject unto itself.

Decisions should be made based upon the requirements of our different stakeholders to ensure that the solution is fit for purpose. Its tempting to look at software and think about the feature set that the software gives. Some people choose one piece of software over another because it has better features. This is normally a bad approach; you may end up paying for a solution that’s expensive that will never be fully utilized. The same approach equally applies to hardware and software.

When considering replacement technologies or upgrades you should also revert back to the requirements.

An Example With Disk Capacity

For example – If we are looking to order new disk capacity – a vendor may offer us a new model of disk capacity which is 5% faster. It may look at a good idea on the surface, but that’s not necessarily the case. If we do not require faster disk capacity, then in fact there may be a cost overhead. Let’s consider TELOS for a moment (Technology, Economy, Legal, Operational, Scheduling). We may realize that to implement new hardware means potential incompatibility and a risk to operational efficiency. It may also mean we need people to support or train with the new technology; its one more technology type to manage. 

In addition to this – we should of course be tracking decisions, in a work log or other system. We might also consider having release management on versions of our requirements and the approvals of them.

Modelling Device & Requirement Mapping

A practical example. I needed to choose a new laptop. Not knowing what to get I did an exercise in ArchiMate. I started by modelling the top choices I had narrowed down to (I created a Technology View). Of course, if we were deciding software items we could just as easily use application components in another view.

Laptop Device Elements

From there I needed to decide my requirements. I am using BiZZdesign’s Enterprise Architect and multi-added some items (it took 2 minutes). I followed this by using a property table to assign priorities to my requirements. The resultant requirements ended up looking like shown below. It’s a Motivation View, using a MoSCoW color filter:

Requirements View

You can see above the priorities in had on my requirements. Normally in doing requirements I am thinking about TELOS; we could also consider ensuring we capture requirements from all the different stakeholder types named in ISO 42010. Note, in my laptop decision I was doing quick and dirty modelling.

Realizing The Requirements

Once I had the requirements it was a matter of deciding which devices met the requirements. I could have put both the devices & requirements in a requirements realization view; Instead I used another cool Enterprise Studio feature – I created a cross reference table using these options:

Cross reference table definition

From here it created a table and I could just click on the table cells to generate realization relationships between the requirements and the devices.

Cross Reference Table

Visualizing this – it was easy to see the best option there was the EliteBook. I could have easily from this point generated a ArchiMate view if I wanted to using the auto-generate functions in enterprise studio but I just didn’t need it. I could have also saved this table as a Enterprise Studio Viewpoint and reused it later so I didn’t have to re-select the options again. Note – Viewpoints in this case refers the the Enterprise Studio functionality. In my agony to make the right choice I did in fact produce one last motivation view:

Motivation View

The whole exercise took 30 minutes.  There are distinct advantages to modelling your requirements; when it comes to making sure nothing is missed in requirements realization and tying requirements into other bits of architecture. We can of course document the requirement, its rationale, and influence.

Working With Larger Projects

When working as part of a larger project you might have to periodically sync requirements, or compromise on how you work with them – I could for example in a requirements realization view show a single element such as “Citrix Hardware Requirements”  and then in the documentation of the element just link to a confluence page where a team of people not using my modelling tool can manage them. 

We can also document the relationships; in relationship documentation you could express who had actually agreed or confirmed the requirement can be realized alongside any justification or documentation you have.

Capturing Requirements In A Collaborative Tool

We can capture requirements using any collaboration tool – be it something like OneNote or Confluence. Of course its good if the tool you use allows versioning; regardless of the actual tool you need to consider the following:

  • State who the requirements are for.
  • We clearly identify who is┬áresponsible , which product it pertains to, and other people that have been involved in identifying these requirements in a header block.
  • Sometimes I break requirements down following TELOS – to ensure whoever fills in the template considers things around Technology, Economy, Legal, Operational, Scheduling.

Minimum Needs For Requirements

Normally the actual requirements table as a minimum need has:

  • Who – is the source of the requirement
  • Service/area – gives an indication as to the general area/category of the requirement
  • The requirement – should be clearly defined and easy to validate (no fuzzy vague wording)
  • The rationale should explain why the requirement exists
  • Priority Follows MoSCoW (Must Have, Should Have, Could have, Won’t Have)
  • We have compliance columns for each option we assess.

The levels of compliance normally has the status, and the name of the person who has responsibility for meeting our requirement – for example, if we have a requirement for the network team someone in the network team needs to agree that they can fulfill requirements.The compliance statuses i normally include with the name:

  • Full – means that the device/service/software fully meets the requirement. 
  • Partial – Means the device partially meets the requirement. In this case we would also include words in this table cell to explain why it is only partially compliant.
  • Non Compliant – Is obvious – again the reason for non compliance should be stated
  • Undetermined – Means we have asked but just don’t have an answer yet.

Summing It Up…

Its important to capture requirements and then to assess different technologies against those requirements rather than to look at the feature set a tool or application gives us. If it looks like a solution has a feature we didn’t realize we wanted, this is a change in scope for our solution and we should reassess our business case.

In a world where technology is ever changing its essential that we document the decisions we make or we can loose those reasoning over time, or in bigger projects end up jumping from meeting to meeting essentially discussing the same thing. This is a cost overhead in time and is a risk in terms of miscommunication or the possibility that things get lost.  Its possible to have meetings discuss requirements and keep things together within meeting minutes but architects should be looking to understand these things consistently and to group information together, in a way that in a years time when we look at answering the question “why did we buy this, and can we replace it?” we have something we can go back to.

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